Not only is Max King running this year’s US Mountain Running Championships he’s also the course designer and co-race director. In the following interview, Max talks about what the course is like, what it’s like running a race he’s RDing, and how his fitness stands going into the race.
[Click here if you can’t see the video above.]
Max King Pre-2015 US Mountain Running Championships Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Bryon Powell of iRunFar here with Max King before the 2015 US Mountain Running Championships. Howdy, Max.
Max King: Howdy.
iRunFar: You are racing this weekend, but you are also the course designer.
King: Yeah. Some people were thinking it was going to put me at an advantage, but I’m so stressed out right now that I’m pretty sure they’re all going to be fine for Saturday.
iRunFar: I was going to ask you about that separately. How is that? You’re up here. It’s midday on Thursday…
King: It’s not so much that I have that much to do, it’s that I have so much to do in two days. I’ve been out in the Steens in Eastern Oregon for the last week-and-a-half.
iRunFar: The running camp.
King: The running camp for high-school kids. No cell phone reception out there whatsoever. No contact with the outside world. I tried to get everything done before that. Last weekend I had a couple hours. Now I’m just trying to catch up on everything I had to do.
iRunFar: You’re up here on Thursday afternoon. You’ve got flags, so you’re marking the course today.
King: Yes, mark it today, and set everything up tomorrow morning. Hopefully be ready to go tomorrow afternoon. You know, just plan for all the festivities for tomorrow night and Saturday.
iRunFar: When do you think you’ll actually switch into “Racer Max King” mode? Can you do that tomorrow night?
King: Hopefully it will be tomorrow night I can kind of do that.
iRunFar: Do you have planned to divorce yourself from the race before Saturday morning?
King: Yeah, I definitely want to. I have a co-race director who is helping me. He’s going to be taking care of everything on Saturday for me. Hopefully I can just let him handle all that Friday night and Saturday morning, and I won’t have to worry about it.
iRunFar: The course itself is three laps of a 4k course. It’s an up-and-down course because the U.S. championships course always tries to model the World Championships course to some degree.
King: It does, and it alternates from year to year. One year it is uphill only. This year it’s up-and-downhill. It tries to mimic the World Mountain Running [Championships] course which this year happens to be three loops of a 4k course.
iRunFar: How closely do you feel the profile of each lap matches?
King: The profile is pretty darn close. We have about 850 feet of elevation gain each lap which I think it’s right at 850 feet for the worlds course as well. As far as the footing and stuff goes, I don’t totally know because I haven’t seen the course in Wales. From what I’ve heard, the Wales course is a little bit rocky. It might be pretty similar.
iRunFar: Little higher here. What are we at, 6,000 feet?
King: We’re at 6,300 feet right here, so it is definitely a lot higher elevation. It’s what we have to work with.
iRunFar: I’ve never been up to this area. Mount Bachelor is beautiful behind us. The weather is pretty darn nice.
King: It’s a little bit cooler up here today than it probably should be now, but we’ve been having some weather kind of roll through especially in Eastern Oregon. I haven’t looked at the weather for Saturday, but I expect it to be pretty similar to today.
iRunFar: Comfortable, dry.
King: Really dry.
iRunFar: Nice racing conditions.
King: A little bit of a breeze—yeah, it will be really nice.
iRunFar: You mentioned that the course may suit you. It’s trails you run on always. You won a World Mountain Running Championship. What are your strengths?
King: I’d say my strength is going to be a little more runnable on an uphill than this course. This course is something I had to put together and work with what we had. The way up is actually pretty loose footing. It’s going to play to some people’s strengths. It’s going to be a huge detriment to other people who are actually fast. You’re just going to have to watch your footing. It’s real loose. You’re going to be slipping and sliding on the uphill. The downhill is a road. I would like a little more technical singletrack on the downhill for me. It’s a road, so that’s actually going to suit those faster track guys better. It’s going to be… I think it’s going to be a good mix. That’s why I tried to set it up like I did. I wanted it to be a good mix of things and stuff and make sure there was a little bit of everything on the course.
iRunFar: It’s not just a road course up and back, but it’s also not just stupid technical in the sense that it just suits the mountain…
King: Yeah, it’s not a hugely technical course that’s just going to suit the really, really good technical runner.
iRunFar: Hopefully we’ll have a good match up between folks like you who do have more trail experience and folks that may come from that road and track background a little more recently.
King: Yeah, right. That’s what I’m hoping. You’re going to have to watch your footing on the downhill. We actually… in 2013 when I was running in the World Mountain Running Championships, I was going downhill, hit a rock, and turned my ankle over, and tore all the tendons out of my whole ankle. That hurt. In order to avoid another instance like that, we did actually go up on the downhill and clear off some of those just ankle busters, the ones that are fist size that are just going to roll out from under you that are totally loose. We have cleared a little bit of those out. You’re going to have to watch your footing because there are still some up there. There are rocky sections on that downhill, and they’re all loose.
iRunFar: Loose—are there any tight turns on it?
King: Yeah, there are some pretty good switchbacks. They’re road switchbacks, so they’re not 180-degree tight turns, but there are nice sweeping 180-degree switchbacks on a road.
iRunFar: So people could definitely slide out.
King: Yeah, there is going to be some sliding going on.
iRunFar: Blood and guts come the finish?
King: There might be. There might be.
iRunFar: On the other hand, do you think anyone is going to split sub-four on the descents? How close is it going to come to that? People are going to be running four low.
King: No, I think it will be four low; 4:30 is going to be pretty consistent for the top guys. Yeah, it will fast on the downhill because it is a road.
iRunFar: Have you been training for that specifically?
King: No, that’s the other thing. I got done with Comrades and have been kind of on a little bit of a break after that just to heal up and have been doing more mountain stuff. I did Mont Blanc Marathon and then I’ve just been playing in the mountains, so doing some hill work but nothing specific to this type of thing. I did my first workout on Sunday.
iRunFar: So that should soak up…
King: Yeah. I don’t know. I’ve been focusing everything on race directing and making sure everything is taken care of and that the race runs smoothly and stuff rather than my own training. If I happen to make the team, which I’d like to, I make it. If I don’t, I don’t.
iRunFar: With that in mind, you’ve won worlds and you’ve done very well at the national ones. Do you switch gears this year and say, not push for the win from the go and just try to hang in position and run your way onto the team as opposed to going all out from the gun?
King: Yeah, I probably will, not to give away too many secrets right now, but yeah. The fitness that I have right now and what I’ve been doing recently, I think I need to just focus on having a good race and sticking with one of those positions that’s going to get me on the team.
iRunFar: Now you’re the race director and you know all the entrants and what not. We know people like Joe Gray is going to be up at the front. Who is going to be the surprises that maybe people who follow longer distance trail running might not expect?
King: People you might not know… Patrick Smyth is an absolute beast. He’s going to be up there for sure.
iRunFar: He beat you at XTERRA two years ago?
King: Exactly. He’s been having some really good trail performances as well. This is right in his wheelhouse—short distances. Andy Wacker just was second at the World Mountain Running Long Course Championships. He’ll be up there. There are going to be a handful of other guys, David Roche, and some other guys that I haven’t even maybe… I may not even know that well. I think it will be, it’s going to be a pretty stacked field and a deep field this year.
iRunFar: On the women’s side, the field just keeps getting better by the day. I expect to go to see my email in a couple minutes and… who’s the next woman to join the fray?
King: That’s good. That’s what I like to see. Entries have been creeping up every day, and this last week, we’ve been getting more entries per day than we have at any other time during the year. Entries are still coming in. We might see somebody else pop in there today. Who knows? Tomorrow at packet pick-up you can still register. I’m hoping we’ll pick up a few more there.
iRunFar: Morgan Arritola has been entered for awhile. You have Brandy Erholz and Mandy Ortiz who has been crushing it for a couple years on the junior circuit. Megan Kimmel and Megan Lund-Lizotte who just joined. How do you pick a favorite from a group like that?
King: I don’t know. Morgan is probably… ah, she might be my odds-on favorite because she’s so strong. But you never know how any of the other ones are going to do or what kind of shape Morgan is in at any time. She’s always kind of downplaying her fitness when I talk to her. “Oh, no, I’m not in shape.” But she goes out and then crushes something. Who knows? Who knows what’s going to happen? Megan Kimmel is good. Brandy is always in great shape and really good. We’ll see.
iRunFar: It will be exciting.
King: It will be.
iRunFar: You excited to follow that race?
King: I am. Yeah, I’ll be up here watching.
iRunFar: If you’re going out to run Western States or Mont Blanc Marathon, you’re probably not warming up a whole lot. What do you do before… somebody watching who does ultras who might want to jump into a shorter trail race, what do you do before you get to that line?
King: This takes me back to my track and road-running days. It’s a full-scale warm up. You’ve got to go through a good 15- or 20-minute jog, at least for me. After that it’s a series of active-isolated stretches and then dynamic stretches and then some drills and then some strides. It takes 45 to 50 minutes is what I’ll use for my warm-up for this just making sure my body is totally ready to go so that when I take off, my body is primed and ready. You hit that downhill at the top and your legs are ready to turnover and go.
iRunFar: Do you have that routine pretty well dialed after…?
King: Yeah, that’s something I kind of worked on all the way through track and road running, so I’ve got that pretty well dialed in.
iRunFar: Besides the physical part of that in terms of the actual warming up your muscles and stretching and getting your heart beating, is there a mental aspect to that?
King: Yeah, I think so. Everybody has their own specific warm-up that they do and it becomes almost superstitious for some people because that’s what they do every time. It’s very different from an ultra just the whole aspect of being ready to race and go that hard on your body right from the gun. So, that takes a lot of mental preparation to be able to switch into that mode when you’re racing one of these shorter-distance races. It is a lot of mental stuff, and a lot of your routine becomes that superstitious type thing where you have to do that same thing every time otherwise you’re like, My race is done! I can’t do it!
iRunFar: I stretched my left leg instead of my right leg first.
King: Exactly. To some people it is to that extent. Other people are a little more relaxed with it. I’ve learned to relax over the years and not worry about it quite so much.
iRunFar: How do you fire yourself up so when that gun goes off, that first 400 meters you’re head down?
King: It’s a long process. It’s just years of doing it to be able to get your body to be able to go that hard right off the bat like that.
iRunFar: Thank you, Max. Great talking with you.
King: Thanks for being here.
iRunFar: It’s a pleasure.
iRunFar: One thing that makes it a pleasure to be here is Bend has like literally almost 30 breweries.
King: It’s like 20 or 24 now. Yeah, I haven’t even been to all of them because there are so many.
iRunFar: Do you have a favorite brewery or specific beer here in Bend?
King: No, everybody asks me that, and I really can’t because there are so many and each one has a series or selection of really good beers. I like anything, but I like mostly really, really dark stuff. Each brewery makes some kind of stout that is absolutely amazing. Then they have other things that are really experimental that you can’t get in stores. Deschutes, they sell stuff all across the nation, but they have 12 or up to 15 other beers on tap at any one time that they make just for the brewery. You can go in and check everything out. It’s just amazing. Every brewery in town is like that. They have some experimental stuff—anything from Irish beers to Reds to Belgians to some dark stuff and…
iRunFar: Throw in some spiced stuff…
King: Spiced… everything. It’s incredible.
iRunFar: I just had the Deschutes Freshly Squeezed IPA last night. I think you can get that a little more widely, but on tap?
King: Exactly, and everything tastes a little different on tap. It’s a little better on tap.
iRunFar: Not one single favorite stout here?
King: No, I mean, some of my favorites are BBC. Bend Brewing Company has a lot of really good beers. They actually do flavors like a coconut stout or a cherry stout. Those are always really good. Crux also has a really good stout that’s nice and creamy.
iRunFar: I think I know where I need to go for lunch to upload these interviews. Thanks, Max.